I'm extremely fortunate to have been in a position to attend the Radio Academy Awards most years over the past 25 or so I've been running radio stations, and it was another great night last night.
What was touching for me was that in the room, along with some of the current guys hosting on stations I'm involved with, Free Radio's Roisin, JD, & Hursty and of course the now "Double Academy Award winning" Sam & Amy from Gem 106, there was also my first ever Breakfast DJ, the inimitable Les Ross.
Sometimes you inherit breakfast shows when you take over a station or group, sometimes you have to go out and talent-scout, and sometimes shows just fall into your lap. That was the case with Les and me. Back in 1988 I'd been asked to set up the new AM service for Birmingham and Coventry - my first PD gig. At the same time, brmb's then PC had been told to boost the popularity of the station (15 years after launch it had been flagging for some time) and in particular make it younger. Les, the then brmb breakfast host, was a casualty of that (I have to say in hindsight flawed) thinking, and I can remember a long conversation with Les in the brmb car park (well, no conversation with Les is short) the upshot of which was me marching into the MDs office to say "....if FM don't want him, I do". I've just noticed on Adam Bowie's excellent blog, here, that Les actually won the first ever Sony for Best Breakfast, just as he was being manoeuvred off (typical) and that brmb won station of the year, just as the breakfast show host had left.
Xtra went on to be a huge success, and my career prospered as a result, so I owe Les a lot for that. We had an Xtra AM 25th anniversary celebration the other week in Brum, and none of us had aged a day!
Had we treated radio personalities then with the care we do now, I suspect Les would have been even more laden with awards that he is (and he does have a bulging mantelpiece!). As an industry I do think we work harder now to properly reflect and acknowledge that it's the talent that gets us the success, and the RAAs, Arqivas, IRNs, along with all the other gongs we hand out, give folk scope to get deserved pats on the back. Back in the days when Les was in his pomp, had they been around he would have been picking up multiple RAAs/Arqivas every year - he genuinely was that good. Thinking back, I'm actually amazed at how talented he was, making you laugh out loud every day, in total command of the station and the city. Quite how he never got to be on R1 or R2 I don't know, but I suspect it was to do with a perceived bias against those with Brummie accents being taken seriously on a national station. If proof were needed of his talent and standing, the fact that Les was given the final word in the excellent video tribute to 40 years of commercial radio, shown last night, which you can see here, tells you what the industry thinks of him.
Moving forward a generation or two, what a delight it was to be sitting next to Sam & Amy again, as they won Gold for the second year in a row. two Golds in two years for a local radio breakfast show is going some - and this years award, for music radio personality, saw them beat some of the biggest names in the business - another reason why these awards are so coveted - anyone can win on the night. The Independent gave the award some great coverage here. Sam & Amy are a double act, so I couldn't compare them directly to Les (although Les did have his fair share of co-hosts over the years), but in their own way I rate them as highly. They've been on 106 for a decade now, and that level of longevity is a pre-requisite for a truly great breakfast show. [As a side-bar, Hirsty, from Capital Yorkshire, along with Danny & Jo Jo, were also nominated last night, and we did go out and "talent scout" them 15 odd years ago for Galaxy. They fit the mould too, and those guys should get their own Gold award at some point for sure.]
As well as length of service, knowing the patch is important. Sam's from the south of the region, and Amy is a Leicester lass, and their local knowledge and affinity shines through in all they do.
But most importantly, for a breakfast show to be special, you have to get up every morning and want to spend time with them. And that's what these guys make you want to do. On my normal drive into work, from Leamington to Birmingham, I get about 5 miles/5 minutes on the M6 where Gem comes in loud and clear - and this is normally around 6.20 in the morning. The fact these guys are already on top form then makes my brief opportunity to hear them always a pleasure.
Breakfast these days is much more complex than it used to be. Everyone has to play their part. Sam's on-air character is the arrogant, selfish, big-headed dominant man on the show. How he pulls it off every day is a wonder. Amy has to play the part of the commitment-phobic, feisty, single girl-about-town. Again a wonderful performance every morning. And then there's the third wheel, "Dangerous Dave", who actually personifies the term "sidekick" since he gets beaten up by them so much. They are fabulous, and deserving of their accolades, and like Les, Hirsty, and all the many, many breakfast shows I've had the pleasure of being involved with, they are truly gifted people.
What better job could one have in life than to be allowed to spend one's days with special folk like them.